ComSuper staff fail in bid to keep APS rights

By Stephen Easton

May 12, 2015

How much value is there in the employment mobility benefits that make it easier for public servants to move from job to job within the same government?

Some Canberra bureaucrats are miffed they’ll lose them when their jobs go to a corporate entity, but according to Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd, that’s just the way it is.

It now seems certain that all superannuation for Commonwealth employees will come under the management of Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation, with legislation to effect its takeover of ComSuper securing bipartisan support from the Senate’s Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee.

As well as recommending the legislation be passed into law, the bipartisan committee agreed with Lloyd that when the times comes, ComSuper staff will just have to accept they are no longer in the APS and, as CSC says, enjoy the new career opportunities of working in a government-owned corporation that is also a large, diversified member of the wider superannuation industry.

The public servants who work at ComSuper, which administers older defined benefit schemes, have been assured they will not be any worse off as employees of CSC, but at least some are unhappy that, once the legislation is passed, Lloyd will transfer them out of the APS through a declaration under section 72 of the Public Service Act.

However, as the Community and Public Sector Union pointed out in their own submission, there are other advantages to having a foot in the APS door:

  • The ability to apply for jobs in, and to transfer at level to, another APS Agency (including for some positions that are only available for current APS employees to apply for).
  • If the employee wins a promotion to an APS agency they may transfer to that agency (rather than resign and be reengaged).
  • The entitlement (an obligation on the employer) to seek redeployment in another APS agency if they are declared excess/potentially excess before they can be made redundant. This includes access to the APS redeployment register.

The APS is a career-based employer, the union argues, which means “employees are encouraged to, and do, move through several different agencies in the course of their career”. It is also Canberra’s biggest employer so being suddenly on the outside during an external hiring freeze will make life a little harder for the 400 ComSuper staff, all of whom call the capital home. According to the CPSU:

“They are also concerned that if downsizing of the workforce were to occur after the merger they would not have rights to be redeployed within the APS. This would greatly increase the likelihood of involuntary redundancies occurring.”

The union wanted the legislation amended so the staff transferred from ComSuper to CSC would still be able to move to a different job in the APS without having to resign and be rehired.

But the generous transfer deal, worked out between senior staff from the Department of Finance, CSC and ComSuper in consultation with the APSC, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Department of Employment, is the best they can expect. As Lloyd told the committee:

“Mobility rights between APS and non-APS Commonwealth authorities were removed in 1999 when the Public Service Act came into effect. The provisions were found to impose obligations on employers that involved legacy rights of return for employees that could be held for several years. This adversely affected the capacity of employers to manage their workforces in a flexible manner.”

The current external hiring freeze imposed on the APS was only “temporary” and currently under review by the government, given it had already achieved a “significant reduction” of its workforce, he added:

“Given the temporary nature of the recruitment restrictions, I see no compelling reason to introduce special mobility arrangements for former ComSuper employees to return to the APS.”

Another consequence of the bill is that Public Sector Superannuation Accumulation Plan (PSSAP) members will have to start paying administration fees to cover costs previously paid by the Commonwealth. The measure is expected to save $26.8 million over four years.

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